Friday, July 29, 2011

The Church’s Ministry of Worship

Part of a series on the ministries of the church. Scripture: Acts 2:42-47

Worship of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is a third important part of what the Church is and does. In Acts 2, authentic worship is marked by two things: reverential awe before a holy God (“then fear came upon every soul and many signs and wonders were done,” Acts 2:43; worship in Spirit, John 4:24) and joyful praise (“they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart,” Acts 2:46; worship in truth, John 4:24). Biblical worship is God exalting, Christ-centered, and Holy Spirit empowered. Worship also involves people, both believers and non-believers; therefore, planning well-rounded worship services every week is a demanding task. Worship should include several dimensions.

1.      The Glory dimension (Isaiah 42:12; Rev 5:13). We ascribe to God his worth and glory through songs that exalt God, through remembering his work through the Lord’s Supper, through reading his Word, through prayers which praise his name, seek his face, ask his blessing, and intercede on others’ behalf, through giving our offerings of time and treasure, and through obedience to him through responding to his invitation.

2.      The Teaching dimension (Colossians 3:16a). We worship through reading, preaching, and teaching the Word of God, through songs sung to one another (Ephesians 5:19) and the Lord.

3.      The Encouragement dimension (1 Thess 5:14). Worship should edify, exhort, rebuke, and encourage us to strengthen our walk with Christ, to be obedient to his call, and to give of ourselves in time and monies to serve and build up others in tangible ways.

4.      The Evangelism dimension (1 Peter 2:9). Worship involves responding in obedience to the invitation of the gospel. While every sermon text may not be strongly focused on a gospel presentation each week, there should be the opportunity for individuals to respond to the invitation of the Good News of Jesus Christ at every practical opportunity.

Elements of Worship
The New Testament provides no set order of worship. That has allowed for cultural and preferential variety in different times and places, but there also seems to be continuity across history and cultures. The early church was ethnically Jewish, and therefore it included corporate worship patterns from Judaism including songs of praise, prayers, and the public reading of Scripture. Justin Martyr’s (110-165 A.D.) First Apology is the oldest record outside of the Bible of the ancient Christian order and time of congregational worship.
 'On the day called Sunday, all who live in cities or in the country gather together to one place, and the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as time permits; then when the reader has ceased, the president verbally instructs, and exhorts to the imitation of these good things. Then we all rise together and pray, and, as we before said, when our prayer is ended, bread and wine and water are brought, and the president in like manner offers prayers and thanksgivings, according to his ability, and the people assent, saying Amen; and there is a distribution to each, and a participation of that over which thanks have been given, and to those who are absent a portion is sent by the deacons. And they who are well to do, and willing, give what each thinks fit; and what is collected is deposited with the president, who succors [give assistance to] the orphans and widows, and those who, through sickness or any other cause are in want, and those who are in bonds, and the strangers sojourning among us, and in a word takes care of all who are in need. But Sunday is the day on which we all hold our common assembly, because it is the first day on which God, having wrought a change in the darkness and matter, made the world; and Jesus Christ our Savior on the same day rose from the dead.'

One new element drawn from the Passover meal which the Lord Jesus instituted was the Lord’s Supper. Within a few centuries it became the central part of worship up to the Reformation (16th Century) when preaching took center stage. The Lord’s Supper is the only act of worship which has specific instructions (1 Cor. 11:23-32), and both the Supper and baptism are acts of worshiped that should be practiced regularly.

Music in Worship. (Colossians 3:16b; Ephesians 5:19). Before the Reformation, the only singing in the Catholic Church that was permitted was of choirs. The people were not allowed to sing. After the Reformation, singing was a hotly debated topic among Protestants. The disagreement was whether to sing the Psalms as the Anglican Church continues to do today or to sing the newer hymns by Isaac Watts. The influential British Baptist Benjamin Keach, who pastored the church later led by Charles Spurgeon, argued strongly for hymn singing in the late 1600s, and it has become central in worship now for centuries. Then later there were disagreements over whether it was OK to bring worldly instruments from the saloons into the church and play them, what some people called the devil’s instruments – organs and pianos. Today the hymns are fighting the contemporary worship songs, but the lesson is that musical styles change while the message and the Person worshiped remains the same. A good criteria for musical style is Philippians 4:8.

Public Reading of Scripture (1 Timothy 4:13). Paul encouraged Timothy to make the public reading of Scripture an important part of worship. Alas, in many of our churches the reading of Scripture has become as haphazard and unthought-of as public prayer, and we have suffered for it. Reading of Scripture should occupy a larger and more intentional part of the worship of churches that believe in the inerrancy of Scripture. Our worship in song should be punctuated with Scripture reading as well. Our public prayer should be done in better ways that reflect Scripture.

The Regulative Principle or the Normative Principle?  What about skits, drama, artistic dance, or video clips in worship? Are they appropriate? Some say they are not on the basis of the regulative principle of Scripture. This idea comes from the Westminster Confession and thus the Second London/Philadelphia Confession that God should not be worshiped in any way “not prescribed in the Holy Scriptures.” Mark Dever recommends that we could adopt the following worship grid: read the Bible, preach the Bible, pray the Bible, sing the Bible, and see the Bible (in the ordinances) – that everything in worship be guided by biblical principles.

Others see by way of the normative principle of Scripture: whatever is not prohibited is acceptable, i.e., the mature use of common sense (Galatians 5:1). Should we worship on Sunday morning or Sunday evening? Does the Bible say we should not meet to pray on Wednesday nights? Does the Bible say we should not build a gymnasium and host evangelistic basketball leagues? Does the Bible say we should not have video projection? Does the Bible say we should not have Sunday School? Does the Bible say we should not have mission boards?

I am endebted to John Hammet at Southeastern Seminary for much of this material.